02/02/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Against judges, Muslim extremists call for Asia Bibi’s death and Mumtaz Qadri’s release

by Jibran Khan
Fundamentalists are putting more pressure to get the release of the assassin of Salman Taseer, the Punjab Governor who strongly opposed the blasphemy law. The transfer of a Christian woman whose life is in danger has been postponed. Catholic leaders warn that Pakistan is embracing Islamism against the principle of Ali Jinnah.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Muslim extremists have threatened judges and prosecutors in order to get the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed murderer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Meanwhile, the transfer of Asia Bibi, the 45-year-old Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, has been postponed. Activists and human rights organisations are demanding her appeal be heard in jail. Despite tight security arrangements, fears for her life are increasing. Pakistan, a country founded by Ali Jinnah in 1947 on the principle of the separation of state and religion, appears to be embracing Islamism.

Educated and liberal in his views, Salman Taseer was the direct opposite of today’s average Pakistani. His murder, by one of his bodyguards, shows that people who want to see state and religion separate, who are opposed to aberrant laws like the blasphemy law, have no more space.

Mumtaz Qadri confessed to killing Taseer on 4 January, saying that he committed the deed because of the governor’s opposition to the ‘black law’ and for his support for Asia Bibi.

Since then, more than 800 lawyers and the country’s religious parties have tried to get Qadri’s release, putting pressure on prosecutors and political leaders.

A lawyer filed a petition before the Supreme Court for the murderer’s release but the justices rejected his application, arguing that no one is above the law. The first hearing in Qadri’s trial has been set for this Friday.

In the meantime, prison authorities have not yet authorised Asia Bibi’s transfer to the Multan prison for women. The Masihi Foundation wants her trial to be behind closed doors, out of fear of Muslim extremists who have threatened to kill the 45-year-old Christian woman. Ashaiq Masih, Asia’s wife, thanked activists for taking care of the case. For him, they are a “ray of hope”.

Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, told AsiaNews that Pakistan was set up as a nation for Muslims, not as an Islamic state. Its founder, Ali Jinnah, rejected the idea of mixing nationhood and religion. The prelate noted however, that matters of faith have always been treated by politicians as a blank cheque to be used at election time. Even so, voters have never rewarded Islamist parties at the ballot box.

Fr Joseph Xavier agrees that state and religion must be separated again. In his view, extremists must be turned over to the courts so that “balanced people can promote their ideas”.

Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti denied the existence of a committee to promote changes to the blasphemy law.

The minister, who was burnt in effigy along with Benedict XVI in street protests, said that President Zardari had planned to set up a study group to consult Islamic experts and eventually propose changes to the ‘black law’. However, the reaction of fundamentalists killed the initiative because it would have led to “misunderstandings about the government’s intentions”.

Bhatti denied that any changes to the law are being prepared, but added that “abuses must be prevented”. He also reiterated his belief that Asia Bibi is innocent and should be freed.

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